Monday, February 25, 2008

The Story of Markandeya

Once upon a time, there lived a sage called Mrikandu with his wife Marudvati. Both were devotees of Shiva. The couple was childless, and so decided to perform austerities so they would be blessed with a child. Then one day, Shiva appeared before them. Shiva asked the couple if they desired an ordinary son who would live a long life, or an exceptional son who would live a short life. The couple asked for the latter.

In due course, Marudvati gave birth to a boy and the child was named Markandeya (literally: son of Mrikandu). Markandeya was an exceptionally gifted child, and became an accomplished sage early in his childhood. He was especially devoted to Shiva, and had mastered the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. At the age of sixteen, his time on this earth had come to an end, and so Yama, death personified, came to take him away. At the time, Markandeya was in a temple worshipping the icon of Shiva (Shiva Lingam). When he saw Yama, out of fright, Markandeya grabbed a hold of the Shiva Lingam and asked Lord Shiva to protect him. Yama threw his noose around the boy-sage, which encircled the Shiva Lingam too.

Suddenly, the Shiva Lingam burst open with a thundering roar and a majestic, fiery form of Shiva appeared out of the blazing light. Enraged that Yama should have the audacity to encircle the Shiva Lingam with his noose, Shiva struck down Kala (Yama is also called Kala, time, since time brings death to all things) with His trident, and Kala was no more. Markandeya was spared from death. Shiva blessed Markandeya with eternal life and proclaimed that he shall forever remain a sixteen-year-old sage. The assembly of Devas who had witnessed the spectacle begged Shiva to revive Yama, as a world without death would put unnecessary burden on the earth. Shiva then revived Yama, and declared that His devotees were forever to be spared from the noose of Yama.

Since that day, the fiery form of Shiva that appeared to save the boy-sage Markandeya is called Kalasamhara Murti (or Kalari; see: Forms of Shiva or Forms of Shiva II).

Meaning of the story

The story as narrated above comes to us from the Skanda Purana. There are other versions of the story that differ in details, but our concern here is to understand what we are being told in this beautiful tale. What does it mean for Markandeya to be saved by Shiva and for Shiva to destroy Kala?

For Markandeya to be saved by Shiva means that Shiva's Anugraha Shakti had descended upon the boy-sage. Markandeya had at a young age attained enlightenment and become a jivan-mukta. He was no more bound by time (kala) or death. He had broken through the cycle of birth and death. Verily, Markandeya had gained oneness with Lord Mrityunjaya and conquered death itself.

For Shiva to destroy Yama and become angry that Yama should have the audacity to encircle the Lingam indicates that Shiva is beyond death and time. He is the Eternal Lord. He is the Ruler of time (Mahakaleshvara); He is the Originator of time (Mahakala) and Destroyer of time (Kalari or Kalasamhara Murti). Time in the story is represented by Yama since time brings death and dissolution to all things, but Shiva brings death to time itself. So, He is called Mahakalakala or Mahakalabhairava. When all things decay, Shiva alone remains. As He alone is beyond death and time, Shiva is called Maha Mrityunjaya, the great Conquerer of Death.

The moral of the story is that we, like the boy-sage Markandeya, should also pray and meditate on Shiva-Mrityunjaya, for He alone can take us unto the state beyond the cycles of samsara:

aum mṛtyuñjaya mahādeva trāhi māṁ śaraṇāgatam |
janmamṛtyujarāvyādhi pīḍitaṁ karmabandhanaiḥ ||

Aum, O Great Lord Mṛtyuñjaya, I take refuge in You, pray protect me;
And relieve me of the painful experiences of birth, death, old-age and disease.
Aum Kalasamhara-Murtaye Namah.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sage Shvetashvatara

We know Him who is the Supreme Lord of Lords,
The Supreme Deity of Deities, the Ruler of rulers;
Who is higher than the imperishable Prakriti
And is the self-luminous, adorable Lord of the world.
He is without a body or organs;
None like unto Him is seen, or better than He.
The Vedas speak of His exalted power,
Which is innate and capable of producing diverse effects
And also of His omniscience and might.
He has no master in the world, no ruler,
Nor is there even a sign of Him by which He can be inferred.
He is the Cause, the Lord of the Lord of the organs;
And He is without progenitor or controller.

May the non-dual Lord,
Who, by the power of His Maya, covered Himself,
Like a spider, with threads drawn from primal matter,
Merge us in Brahman!
The non-dual and resplendent Lord is hidden in all beings.
All-pervading, the inmost Self of all creatures,
The Impeller to actions, abiding in all things,
He is the Witness, the Animator and the Absolute, free from gunas.

There is a non-dual Ruler of the actionless many;
He makes the one seed manifold.
Eternal happiness belongs to the wise,

Who perceive Him within themselves and not to others.

He is the Eternal among the eternal,

The Conscious among the conscious

And though non-dual, fulfills the desires of many.

He who has known Him, the luminous Lord, the Great Cause,

To be realised by Knowledge and Yoga, is freed from all fetters.

~Shvetashvatara Upanishad (VI.8-13) of the Krsna Yajurveda.

Shvetashvatara (Śvetāśvatara) is an ancient sage connected with the Tradition of Shiva. The illustrious sage belonged to a school of the Krsna Yajurveda, and there is a celebrated and important upanishad known as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad that bears his name. This particular upanishad, thought to be compiled circa 5th century BCE, contains the teachings of Sage Shvetashvatara unto his disciples. For Shaivites, this upanishad is of particular importance because it contains overt Vedic Shaivite themes. The Upanishad identifies the Supreme Brahman with Rudra-Shiva in multiple occasions, it mentions the terms Pati-Pashu-Pasha (the Essential Triad), it speaks of Shakti as the Power of the Lord, and it borrows heavily from mantras of the Sri Rudram (Rudra-Adhyaya) of the Yajurveda as well as the Rudra hymns of the Rigveda. Some scholars have gone to the extent of suggesting that the Shvetashvatara Upanishad is the first written evidence of systematic Shaivite thought.

As is true with modern Shaivism guided by the Agamas, the aforementioned upanishad blends beautifully the theistic Sankhya and Yoga schools of thought. The Lord (Rudra-Shiva) is beyond Prakriti and Purusha and rules over them. All has originated through His creative Power (Shakti), through which He, the One, has become manifold. He is the Origin and Overseer of Brahmā, the personified Creator of all things. Yet the Lord indwells all of creation concealed within all beings. He is All. He is the fire, sun, wind, moon, stars, water, man, woman, boy, girl, etc. Only upon descent of His grace does He become revealed through divine knowledge as immanent and transcendent. And, those who gain this knowledge become immortal, i.e. are liberated. To that end, devotion (bhakti) toward God and one's Guru are of utmost importance. All these teachings of Shvetashvatara we find in modern Agamic Shaivism.

With regards to the composition of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the sage bearing the same name, we know very little. Many have conjectured that the sage belonged to the Pashupata sect, an early form of Vedic Shaivism, which is also the precursor to all branches of Shaivism we know of today. If it is true that Sage Shvetashvatara belonged to a lineage of Pashupata ascetics, then he must have lived long before the time of Satguru Lakulisha (ca. 100 CE), the famous reformer and codifier of Pashupatism. While, it is tempting for Shaivites to conclude that the Shvetashvatara Upanishad was influenced by Agamic thought, we are as of yet not certain that the Agamas in written form existed at the time of this compilation (5th century BCE). It is not however out of the realm of possibility that an oral tradition of the Agama already existed. For now, we can be happy just reading what the upanishad itself says about the illustrious sage:
Through the power of austerity and through the grace of the Lord, the Sage Śvetāśvatara realised Brahman and proclaimed the highly sacred Knowledge, supremely cherished by the company of seers, to sannyasins of the most advanced stage. (VI.22)

Aum Namah Shivaya.
Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.
Read the Shvetashvatara Upanishad from this site or from an external site.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Commandment of Shiva

The term shastra (śāstra) is used in all Hindu traditions to signify any holy book or scripture. The term is derived from the root śās which means to rule, to command or to govern. From a religious perspective, this is a most appropriate term and derivation because it is the holy scriptures that instruct us on correct behavior and guide us onto the right path.

In Shaivism, the term shastra (śāstra) and its derivation take on an additional layer of meaning, especially when applied to the Shaiva Agamas. If one examines the Shaiva Agamas, one finds that almost all of them are in the form of a divine dialog where Shiva is the Guru, who imparts the doctrines unto a shishya (disciple). Many-a-times the shishya is Shakti, but in other cases the shishya may be Kartikeya, Garuda, Vishnu, Rudra, a blessed Rishi or Deva, etc. Though the format of the Agamas is a divine interlocution, it is always made clear that the teaching is meant for us. This is especially apparent because the questions posed by the disciple in earnest are those that are pertinent to us, to foster our understanding, practice and ritual. As every instruction in the Shaiva Agamas is given by Shiva Himself, He is the primal Guru and all the Agama Shastras are His divine teachings. Every ritual, every philosophy, every belief, every doctrine, every practice, every word of the Agama (śāstra) is a command (śās) to us from the Lord.

For Shaivites, therefore, the entire religion of Shiva with all its branches, the whole of Shaiva Agamic canon and theological-philosophical tradition is Shiva-Shasana (Śiva-Śāsana), the Commandment of Shiva. It is for this reason that we honor our Agamas so highly, and consider them on par with the Vedas, and never inferior to the latter. The Vedas are His breaths, the Agamas are His words. Just as in chanting, the words (mantras) ride on the breaths (see: The Unchanted Mantra), so the glorious tradition of the Shaiva Agamas rides on the holy tradition of the Vedas.

Never may we forget the Commandment of Shiva!

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

O Gajanana!

O Gajanana! O Inspirer of mankind,
Clear all those paths, O Lord,
Paths which lead to Your Father's divine Realm.
Of bhakti, of karma, of raja yoga and jnana,
The pursuit of which path is possible,
O Vinayaka, without Your blessing, without Your grace?

O Gajanana, O Lord of obstacles,
How many have You impelled over the aeons,
Toward noble goals; toward dharma and moksha?
Not one can ascend Kailasa sans Your aid,
Not one can approach Shakti nor Shiva,
O Child of Shiva-Shakti, without Your express consent.

O Gajanana, O Emperor of Dharma,
The Muladhara chakra is Your bejeweled throne,
From whence You rule, You command the physical world.
How can one even conceive of higher states of being,
Without first falling down at Your holy feet?
O Ganesha, verily all realizations occur by Your guidance alone.

Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Mother is Parvati

माताच पार्वति देवी पिता देवो महेश्वरः
बान्धवा शिवभक्ताश्च स्वदेशो भुवनत्रयम्॥

mātāca pārvati devī pitā devo maheśvarah |
bāndhavā śivabhaktāśca svadeśo bhuvanatrayam ||

My Mother is Devi Parvati,
My Father is great Lord Shiva,
All devotees of Shiva are my brethren,
And all three worlds are my own nation.

~ Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada
Sri Annapurnashtakam, verse 12

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

That is Siva

He who is known implicitly in the mantras of the Vedas,
He who is known explicitly in the sutras of the Āgamas,
He who is extolled in the verses of various holy hymns,
He who is taught in the teachings of the great Masters,
He who is experienced in the experience of His devotees,
He who is mystified in the mysticism of His Saints,
He who is theorized by the philosophies of His philosophers,
He who is felt deeply in the intuitive feelings of His worshipers,
He who is realized in the deep realizations of His Siddhas,
He who is meditated upon in the meditations of His Sages,
He who is the inspiration of the divinely inspired ones,
He who is the very basis of the variegated, multifaceted universe,
He who is the substratum of every shape, of every form,
He who is the Immanent Divine and the Transcendent Reality,
He who is the Auspicious, the Ever Auspicious, the Supremely Auspicious,
That is Śiva, That Reality is Śiva, That Realization is Śiva, That Lord is Śiva,
That Being is Śiva, That State is Śiva, That Truth is Śiva, That Brahman is Śiva.
All is Śiva, All is Śiva.


Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


śrī śivāṣṭakam
Hymn of Eight Stanzas on Shiva

prabhuṁ prāṇanāthaṁ vibhuṁ viśvanāthaṁ jagannāthanāthaṁ sadānandabhājām |
bhavadbhavyabhūteśvaraṁ bhūtanāthaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||1||

O Lord! Lord of life, the all-pervasive One, the Lord of the universe,
O Lord of the Lord of the world, the Possessor of eternal bliss,
O Lord of all entities past and future, Lord of all beings,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

gale ruṇḍamālaṁ tanau sarpajālaṁ mahākālakālaṁ gaṇeśādhipālam |
jaṭājūṭabhaṅgottaraṅgairviśālaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||2||

O He, whose neck is adorned with a skull-garland and body with serpents,
O Ender of great time itself, who rules over Ganesha and others,
From whose matted locks issues forth the large billows of the Ganga,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

mudāmākaraṁ maṇḍanaṁ maṇḍayantaṁ mahāmaṇḍalaṁ bhasmabhūṣādharaṁtam |
anādihyapāraṁ mahāmohahāraṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||3||

O He, who is ornamented with the very form of happiness,
O He, who is adorned with the ashes of the ornate universe itself,

O beginningless, boundless One, the Remover of the greatest of delusions,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

vaṭādho nivāsaṁ mahāṭṭāṭṭahāsaṁ mahāpāpanāśaṁ sadāsuprakāśam |
girīśaṁ gaṇeśaṁ maheśaṁ sureśaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||4||

The One who dwells under a banyan tree, He of immense laughter,
O Dissolver of the greatest of sins, the eternally effulgent One,
O Lord of the mountain, Lord of hosts, O great Lord, Lord of all Devas,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

girindrātmajāsaṁgrahītārdhadehaṁ girau saṁsthitaṁ sarvadā sannigeham |
parabrahmabrahmādibhirvandhyamānaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||5||

O He, who shares half His body with She who is born of the mountain (Shakti),
O He, who is situated in the mountains, the eternal Refuge (for those who seek Him),
O Supreme Brahman, worshiped with honor by Brahmā and others,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

kapālaṁ triśūlaṁ karābhyāṁ dadhānaṁ padāmbhojanamrāya kāmaṁ dadānam |
balīvardayānaṁ surāṇāṁ pradhānaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||6||

O He, who holds the skull-bowl and trident in His hands,
O He, who fulfills the desires of those who take to His lotus feet,
O Rider of the Bull, the Supreme One amongst the Devas,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

śaraccandragātraṁ guṇānanda pātraṁ trinetraṁ pavitraṁ dhaneśasya mitram |
aparṇākalatraṁ sadā caritraṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||7||

O He, whose body resembles the autumnal moon, the Vessel of blissful qualities,
O three-eyed One, the pure One, Friend of the Lord of wealth,
O Consort of Aparna (Shakti), the eternally wonderful One,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

haraṁ sarpahāraṁ citā bhūvihāraṁ bhavaṁ vedasāraṁ sadā nirvikāram |
śmaśāne vasantaṁ manojaṁ dahantaṁ śivaṁ śaṅkaraṁ śambhumīśānamīḍe ||8||

O Hara, garlanded in serpents, who roams the cremation ground*,
O Bhava, the very essence of the Veda, who is forever free from change,
O Resident of the cremation ground*, who burns all mind-born desires,
O Shiva-Shankara-Shambhu, O Ishana, praises be unto Thee.

stavaṁ yaḥ prabhāte naraḥ śūlapāṇe paṭhet sarvadā bhargabhāvānuraktaḥ |
sa putraṁ dhanaṁ dhānyamitraṁ kalatraṁ vicitraṁ samāsādya mokśaṁ prayāti ||9||

Whosoever reads this hymn every morning with devotion
Pleases the effulgent trident-bearing Lord.
He shall be blessed with children, wealth, friends, grains, spouse,
And after leading a wonderful life, he shall attain moksha.

|| iti śivāṣṭakam ||

Here ends the Hymn of Eight Stanzas on Shiva.

[*cremation ground is an analogy used by ancient Shaivite ascetics to indicate that he who performs penance for Shiva loses all desire for bodily comforts, the physical body is as good as dead to him]

onamaḥ śivāya.

For printable version, click here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Shuddha-Ashuddha Tattvas

Why are we limited as to what we can do and where we can be? Why is it that if the only reality is that of Shiva and All is Shiva that we must feel insignificant? How can it be, if Shiva is the only reality, that we should feel so distant, so far removed from that Reality?

The answer given in Shaivism to these questions can be summed up in one word: māyā. The term māyā, as used in Shaivism, does NOT indicate that the entire existence is unreal or illusion or false. Rather, in Shaivite teachings, māyā is that power which creates the notion of separation from the Lord, the notion of limitedness and individuality. According to the Shaiva Agamas and the philosophy therein, māyā along with the other impurities (malas; of which there are three – ānava, karma, māyā) are produced by the Shiva’s Tirodhana Shakti (Power of Concealment). Māyā in the Shaivite system, therefore, is not taken to as an unreal or beginningless entity that covers the Ultimate Reality. Rather, māyā is Shiva’s own inherent Power by which Shiva conceals His immanence within existence.

Shaiva Agamic theology teaches that māyā, which can be considered a veil of finiteness and limitedness on the Infinite and the Unlimited, produces five sheaths or coverings (kanchukas). The five coverings are as follows:

1. Kalā (creativity)
2. Vidyā (knowledge)
3. Rāga (desire)
4. Kāla (time)
5. Niyati (destiny)

These five coverings, together known as the progeny of māyā, cover the purusha, the individual entity or soul (or the perception thereof). As a result of these coverings, the individual entity feels himself limited in all these respects.

The covering of kalā limits the individual’s creativity. He is kept from sarvakartrtva, the ability to do everything (omnipotence). The covering of vidyā limits the individual’s knowledge. He is kept from sarvajnatva, the ability to know everything (omniscience). The covering of rāga limits the individual’s fulfillment. He is kept from purnatva, the ability to feel complete (fullness or perfection). The covering of kāla limits the individual within time. He is kept from nityatva, the ability to be timeless (eternity). The covering of niyati limits the individual within space. He is kept from vyāpaktva, the ability to be everywhere (omnipresence). As a result of these five coverings, the individual entity feels entirely restricted and bound, and develops the understanding that he is a separate or separable from Shiva. It is only when he is graced by Shiva’s Anugraha Shakti (Power of Revealment) that he is able to begin understanding the true oneness of it all.

Māyā and her five coverings are then, in the Shaiva Agamic scheme, the six tattvas that lie beyond twenty-five tattvas given by Sānkhya. The last tattva taught by Sānkhya is the purusha or individual entity, but the Shaiva Agamic scheme says that the purusha is actually not a liberated state of being at all, but something akin to an objective ego, himself limited by māyā and her five coverings. According to the Shaiva Agamic scheme, the twenty-four tattvas that constitute prakriti (see Sankhya System and the Tattvas) are referred to as the ashuddha (impure) tattvas as they are material in nature. Above these are the seven shuddha-ashuddha (pure-impure) tattvas consisting of māyā, the five kanchukas (kalā, vidyā, rāga, kāla, niyati), and purusha.

Shuddha-Ashuddha Tattvas

31. Māyā
30. Kalā
29. Vidyā
28. Rāga
27. Kāla
26. Niyati
25. Purusha

Below these are the 24 ashuddha tattvas of prakriti exactly as presented by Sankhya.

Aum Namah Shivāya.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Related post: Sankhya System and the Tattvas

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